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HBO and the Institute of Medicine (IOM), in association with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has worked together to show an unprecedented series of documentaries, aimed at raising awareness of the dire situation for millions of Americans, suffering under the weight of their own obesity. ‘The Weight of the Nation’ will show the harsh realities of America, starting on May 14 with two out of four films.
Part 1: ‘Consequences’ – Monday, May 14 (8:00-9:10 p.m. ET/PT)
America is on the brink of a public health crisis that affects not only individuals, but the entire society. With more than 68% of American adults overweight or obese, ‘Consequences’ examines the scope of the obesity epidemic and explores the serious health consequences of being overweight or obese.
Obesity can lead to such health problems as: heart disease; type 2 diabetes; many cancers; high blood pressure; stroke; joint problems; sleep apnea; kidney, gallbladder and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; infertility; and depression.
“Today, there are almost 26 million Americans with diabetes – seven million of whom don’t even know they have it – and more than 79 million Americans are pre-diabetic,” says Anthony Iton, MD, JD, MPH, senior vice president of the California Endowment. “A child born in 2000 has a one in three lifetime chance of having diabetes. If that child is African-American or Latino, it’s one in two.”
America’s collective weight has risen dramatically since the 1980s, with adult obesity rates more than doubling. All Americans pay the price in one way or another, from higher insurance premiums and lost productivity to higher taxes and unemployment.
‘Consequences’ includes a look at a community in Bogalusa, La, which is home to the historic NIH-funded Bogalusa Heart Study, the first investigation to link early childhood weight problems with adult heart disease. The film also profiles Sam Klein, MD, who is conducting a novel study looking at the negative impact of excess weight on liver function at Washington University, and explores the work of David Nathan, MD as he explores the risks and dangers of weight gain and diabetes at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“This is preventable,” comments Jack Shonkoff, director, Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University. “This is not one of those unfortunate acts of nature that we just have to accept as reality. This is not the product of a tsunami.”
Part 2: ‘Choices’ – Monday May 14 (9:10-10:25 p.m.)
Obesity is commonly thought of as simply a matter of lifestyle and personal choice, but there are many factors that contribute to the problem – and many solutions are needed to fix it. In the meantime, millions of overweight and obese Americans struggle to lose pounds and keep them off. ‘Choices’ provides “the skinny” on fat, sharing scientific insights into how to lose weight, and explores what needs to change in people’s lives, including where they work, eat, learn and play, while spotlighting individuals who are waging those battles successfully.
“Fad diets — diets that haven’t been scientifically tested and that promise miracles — shouldn’t be trusted, because there really isn’t such a thing as a miracle here,” says Kelly Brownell, PhD, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University.
Scientists understand that maintaining weight loss is about more than willpower –bodies and brains sometimes work against such efforts. Why and how this happens is still being studied. Highlighting the work of Rudy Leibel, MD, co-director of the New York Obesity Research Center at Columbia University Medical Center, ‘Choices’ examines the “set point” theory, which suggests that after an individual gains weight, the body establishes a new set point that it considers its new weight, or “new normal.”
According to the set point theory, because bodies fight to maintain the highest weight, or set point, it’s necessary to consume fewer calories and burn more just to keep that weight off.
‘Choices’ also spotlights: weight-loss tips from a supervised program at Washington University; the history and myths of dieting; the benefits and drawbacks of bariatric surgery, which can reduce stomach size; and the importance of losing weight, even just a little, to prevent or reverse diabetes.
The film also looks at how stress can affect eating habits and contribute to obesity. “It’s really not just about what we’re eating, but it’s about what is eating you,” says Elissa Epel, co-director of the Center for Obesity Assessment, Study & Treatment at the University of California, San Francisco. “We have an epidemic of obesity. We also have an epidemic of stress. And the two are feeding each other.”
For more information on ‘The Weight of the Nation’ and the screening kits, please visit hbo.com/theweightofthenation.